Thursday, June 18, 2009

What the Right needs ...

... among other things, is a well-organized, easy-to-use website which could serve as a portal to the best that has been and is being said by conservatives and libertarians today.

We need someplace we can go when we want to find out about issues like Education, Iraq, American history, Academia, crime, the economic crisis, welfare, the environment, race, etc.

It would hold annotated reading lists, survey essays covering the most important issue of the day, and annotated links to other useful sites.

It needs to be a catholic (small c) site, embracing all strands of reasonable conservatism and libertarianism; kept up to date; maintained with editorial oversight so that users' time is not wasted being directed to third-rate or crank sites. The purpose of the site would not be advocacy on behalf of some particular political tendency, but the provision of information.

A student who has been assigned an anti-American textbook to read, should be able to come to this site and find it reviewed and refuted. Someone wanting to find out if the welfare state really works in Sweden, should be able to find links to sites which show the reality. Someone researching whether the "three strikes and you're out" law has worked, should be able to find the truth.

It's not a job for just one person, although only one person can take ultimate responsibility.

The kind of people needed are (1) techies; (2) amateur intellectuals, the sort of people who read a lot and can sift out the dross when compiling, for example, a reading list on Chile; and people with energy and time, who can undertake some routine tasks from time to time involving the internet.

If you think you might like to collaborate in creating such a site, contact me at Doug1943 a t

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Conservative and Libertarian Journals with On-Line Access

For those who want to read further conservative, libertarian or objectivist thinking about current events, here is a list of English-language print journals, including those with on-line access.

The degree of access may be restricted in various ways, but is usually complete. Some of these publications are available directly via their own website, and others are available via one or both of two on-line journal access portals, FindArticles, and AccessMyLibrary. (The latter will require you to enter the name of your local public library and your zip code. Contact me if you cannot do this because you live someplace without a library and/or a zip code.)

If anyone finds anything wrong with any of these links, please tell me via a personal comment.

If anyone can add to this list, or suggest a more informative comment for one or more of the journals, please do so.

This list is a first draft of part of a website I am working on. Additional lists, of annotated links to conservative and libertarian blogs and websites, and of the liberal/Left counterpart of this list, may be available in the near future.


Academic Questions Journal of the conservative National Association of Scholars. Documents the soul sickness of American higher education.

American Conservative Pat Buchanan's 'paleocon' magazine. (Some articles are available on line.)

American Enterprise Published by the American Enterprise Institute. Now defunct, replaced by The American.

American Spectator No free on-line access at the moment. Commentary on American politics.

American Interest No free access. The Fukayama anti-neocon split from The National Interest. Foreign policy.


Cato Journal Public policy from a libertarian perspective.

The Chesterton Review "Edited by Ian Boyd, the Review is devoted to exploring the life and work of one of the twentieth century's most original thinkers—G.K. Chesterton. Past issues have also explored the work of writers like C.S. Lewis, Christopher Dawson, Charles Dickens, and George Grant, who share something of the Chestertonian romance with “orthodoxy.” Elegantly produced, The Chesterton Review is one of the most prestigious literary and cultural journal published today. Mailed every summer and winter season, each Review is illustrated with period photos and published at 300 pages."

Chronicles of American Culture. Roughly Paleocon, but has its own take on events.

City Journal. Published by the Manhattan Institute. Mainly articles on social policy.

Claremont Review of Books. The conservative answer to the New York Review of Books. Excellent, high-level book reviews and review-essays.

Commentary. Neo-con, serious articles on a variety of issues. Also available via AccessMyLibrary.


Education Next or via AccessMyLibrary. Published by the Hoover Institution. Deals with K-12 education.

Faith & Reason "Now in its third decade, the quarterly Faith & Reason offers scholarly enquiry grounded in tradition, specifically one informed by a Catholic consideration of the liberal arts and the relationship between faith, reason, and culture. Each issue normally features three essays, a new translation from Greek, Latin, or modern languages, and a selection of book reviews."

First Things. Conservative theologians. High quality articles and debates on issues from a Christian perspective.

Free Market. Published by the Von Mises Institute.

The Freeman. Published by the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education. Articles on economics and social policy, from a consistently libertarian viewpoint.


Hoover Digest
. A publication of the Hoover Institution. Articles on domestic and foreign issues.

Human Events. Conservative. No back issues online, but you can find articles grouped by topic.

"The Intellectual Activist is especially dedicated to understanding and promoting the revolutionary ideas of the 20th-century novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand — the great champion of the power of reason, the supreme value of the individual, and the unfettered liberty of a capitalist society."

Imprimus. Monthly missive from Hillsdale College, usually a reprint of a speech made by an invited conservative thinker.


Independent Review. Libertarian.

Intercollegiate Review. High Conservatism from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

Journal of Libertarian Studies. Published by the Von Mises Institute.

Journal of Markets and Morality
. Another Acton Institute publication, "the journal promotes intellectual exploration of the relationship between economics and morality from both social science and theological perspectives."


Liberty. Independent libertarians. Often critical of the Libertarian Party.

Modern Age. Burke and Kirk conservatism, at a high level. Also available via AccessMyLibrary, and via FindArticles.


National Interest. Neo-con (more or less) foreign policy magazine, whose home page is here.

National Review. The Flagship. Also available via FindArticles and AccessMyLibrary.

National Right to Life Journal. Anti-abortion activists.

New American. The magazine of the John Birch Society. It can also be accessed here.

The New Atlantis. Science and Technology from a conservative perspective.

New Criterion. Aesthetics and appreciation of civilization. Also available via AccessMyLibrary.

"Ten times a year, The New Individualist challenges both the cultural left and cultural right, applying the Objectivist philosophy of principled individualism to hot cultural and political issues."

The Objective Standard is a relatively new Randian publication, whose self-description says it is "a quarterly journal of culture and politics based on the idea that for every human concern—from personal matters to foreign policy, from the sciences to the arts, from education to legislation—there are demonstrably objective standards by reference to which we can assess what is true or false, good or bad, right or wrong."


Policy Review. General articles about political questions, published by the Hoover Institute. Also available via AccessMyLibrary.

The Political Science Reviewer " is a beacon in the often-murky world of professional political science journals. Unencumbered by any of the reigning orthodoxies, the PSR welcomes the evidence of empirical study, but upholds the primacy of theoretical understanding. The PSR is an annual journal featuring essay-length reviews of classic and contemporary studies in law and politics, as well as examinations of leading political science textbooks. Each review provides in-depth evaluation without a narrow, over-specialized focus."

The Public Interest. The neo-con social policy review. This ceased publishing two years ago, after forty years, but all the back issues are available, and they contain much excellent material. Available via FindArticles and AccessMyLibrary.

Quadrant Australian journal of culture and politics, from a conservative viewpoint.

Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. Published by the Von Mises Institute.


Reason. Moderate libertarians. Also available via AccessMyLibrary.

Religion & Liberty
. An Acton Institute publication which seeks to explorer the intersection between religion, free markets, and liberty.

Right Now!. British publication which has just ceased publishing, being replaced by Quarterly Review.

Salisbury Review. High Tory British conservative journal. Some articles available on line.

Spectator. British weekly magazine, with articles on culture and current events, from a generally conservative viewpoint. Some online articles available. Also available via AccessMyLibrary.

Studies in Burke and His Time " founded by Peter J. Stanlis, is an annual publication emphasizing all aspects of Edmund Burke's thought, life, and influence. Other major figures of his time, such as David Hume, Rousseau, Samuel Johnson, Adam Smith, are considered, especially as they relate to the study of Burke, but also in their own right. Also, comparative essays on Burke and more recent political philosophers, such as Strauss, Hayek, Oakeshott, Voegelin, and Maritain, are included."


University Bookman, published by the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal, "Reviewing Books that Build Culture", "Founded by Russell Kirk in 1960 and currently edited by Gerald J. Russello, The University Bookman is the flagship journal of the Russell Kirk Center and one of America’s premier reviewer publications. In its pages, readers find thoughtful assessments of leading books and authors written by some of today’s most gifted conservative minds."

Weekly Standard. The main neo-conservative journal.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Right Way to Argue -- Part I

The Right Way to Argue: How Conservatives Can Prevail in Political Debate

I Introduction

Why We Fight

I assume that most of us take part in on-line and other debates for the sheer bloody combative fun of it, the way some people play chess or tennis, presumably responding to ancient Darwinian impulses. To be sure, in none of these contests, if you win, do you get to carry your enemy’s head back to your village, but you can sure feel the hormones surging.

However … perhaps there is a higher purpose we can serve at the same time as we sublimate those primal urges.

The Background

There are now thousands of on-line forums, of which several hundred prominently feature political debate and discussion. It is probably safe to say that, on any given night, tens of thousands of people are looking at them. There is every reason to think these numbers will grow. It is also probably the case that the sort of person who is interested enough in politics to take part in on-line political exchanges tends disproportionately to be the kind of “opinion leader” who influences several others around him.

The Social Context

My working assumption is that in every on-line debate, there is at least one person following it, if not taking part, who can be brought closer to the conservative camp, or, if he or she is already there, can be made a more effective member of it.

This belief, which is based on several decades in argumentative politics, is that behind the appearance of two united, monolithic, unshiftable blocks of enemies, one on the Right, the other on the Left, facing each other like two armies arrayed for battle, is a reality which is much more complicated. I believe it is closer to the truth to see the political spectrum as follows:

(1) Conservatives

A plurality – between thirty and forty percent – of Americans identify themselves as “conservatives”. But not all of these people are highly sophisticated, knowledgeable political activists. On the conservative side may be people with good will, but who are not very knowledgeable about their beliefs. These may be young people who consider themselves conservatives, but are trapped on a liberal college campus; or high school students from a reflexively-conservative home where they have not had the opportunity to be armed intellectually with the ideas and facts which could support their parents’, and their, instinctive conservatism; or older conservatives who are just getting into the on-line world whose conservatism is based on solid personal experience, but who as yet lack the skills and intellectual ammunition for effective argumentation.

Good arguments supported by appropriate references to conservative books and journals and websites can play a role in consolidating all of these people’s beliefs and helping them prepare to take part in arguments themselves.

(2) Liberals

On the liberal side are people who think of themselves as liberals, but who may be conflicted about various aspects of the liberal program, or whose daily experiences don’t match the predictions of liberal theory (such as it is). I did a quick survey of a few dozen forums, asking people who had changed their beliefs – What made you change? I received quite a few replies to the effect, ‘It was when I graduated from college and had to start paying taxes’ or ‘It was when I opened my own business’. It might be possible to help speed such people along the path to Enlightenment by exposing them to the conservative worldview before they have these experiences.

We may have young rebels who thought that the proper target of their rebellious instincts was the white male establishment but who are beginning to find that the real enemies of their liberty are the Leftwing Thought Police.

Or we may even run into liberals who find that the decent liberal values which moved them to get into politics in the first place are actually best secured by the sort of ordered liberty supported by a prosperity-generating free market that conservatives champion, rather than by the ever-growing amorphous state, which liberals seem to want to strengthen in every aspect except that which is its proper function, protecting us from enemies domestic or foreign.

On the few liberal-dominated forums in which I have participated in the last few months, I have encountered (1) liberals who support the war in Iraq, (2) liberals who are vehemently against gun-control, being match target shooting competitors themselves, (3) liberals who are against abortion, (4) liberals who are against gay marriage, (5) liberals who are against Affirmative Action, (6) liberals who recoil at Political Correctness.

We may mock their inconsistency, but it would be foolish to do so. People are not machines for the processing of formal logic, who determine the axiom-set and rules of inference of politics and then proceed to mechanically deduce all the propositions which necessarily follow from them.

Rather, they draw upon their own experiences which are necessarily partial and limited. They are heavily influenced by friends, parents, teachers, professors, newspapers, radio, TV. They are moved by events, filtered through the media which present these events to them.

This is why talk radio has been so important in the growth of conservatism. It is why the phenomenon of ‘South Park Conservatives’ exists. It is why getting a job and getting married and having children is so often cited by people as part of the process of changing their minds in a conservative direction.

No one leaps in a single microsecond from full-blown liberalism to case-hardened conservatism. They proceed in a series of steps, from stage to stage, and they may not even be aware that they are occupying intermediate positions.

Even if a liberal stops in his political progress, and remains a liberal, but with conservative sensibilities on certain issues, that is a victory. Liberals will inevitably wield political influence at all levels of American society into the indefinite future. If we can persuade some of them that, for example, school choice is a good idea, then that alone is worth the effort.

(3) Neither

And then, there are those people – the majority of Americans, by all polls – who think of themselves as neither liberal nor conservative, or perhaps a bit of both. How many of these take part in on-line debates, I don’t know. I suspect they make up a larger part of the ‘lurkers’. But they are surely there for the influencing, and the more of them we can inoculate against the errors of liberalism, and move in our direction, the better.

Coming Next: Part II. Some General Considerations on Political Debate

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Right Way to Argue -- Part II (1) - (10)

Some General Considerations on Political Debate

These apply not only to on-line debate and discussion, but in general.

(1) The way to learn to write well is to read a lot, and to read the writings of good, elegant stylists. I strongly recommend Gibbon, Macaulay, and Churchill. And among living writers, William Buckley.

Also good reading: Trotsky, surprisingly enough, especially his well-reasoned polemics against his political enemies. Shaw said that Trotsky not only cut his opponents' heads off, he then held them up to show there were no brains inside. Christopher Hitchens and Gore Vidal on the Left [well, Hitch is in motion] are wonderful writers and polemicists, well worth keeping up with. Also Mark Steyn, on the Right. There are a number of other good conservative columnists whom I will list later.

(2) Prepare for the battle.

I hate to get drawn into arguing about a subject where I have not read the main arguments of both sides. I find that when I do, I usually get ambushed by a well-read liberal who bombards me with facts and figures and citations. I may still feel I'm right, but I cannot refute him except using abstract arguments, which are seldom effective against facts and figures. [Of course you can interrupt the fight and go Googling, but how much better to have Googled beforehand, and thus be able to come back immediately. In any case, if you have to fashion a weapon out of hastily-retrieved Google scourings, it may turn out to be a very blunt instrument indeed. What we need is a Conservative Resource Center where such work as has been done for you beforehand, but that’s another topic.]

I know one very effective participant in on-line debates who has his own store of links and quotes, which he spends hours accumulating, and which he can deploy swiftly and effectively to counter his opponents’ claims. I think this should be an example for us all.

In fact, you should consider becoming a specialist on some topic of political interest. No one can know all there is to know about everything, or even about one thing. But you can, with an hour or two of Googling, get signed up on two or three electronic newsletters, which, supplemented by reading a book or two, and downloading a few files, make you a specialist on, say, Cuba, or Affirmative Action, or Gun Control, or the Supreme Court, or … A “specialist” is not necessarily an “expert”. But a specialist will know a lot more about a subject than the rest of us, and can be of great use in a debate. (Of course, we would benefit immensely if the services of specialists could be brought together and made available to all conservatives. See the Appendix for a proposal to do this.)

(3) Win the person, not the argument

I believe that the good conservative debater should always frame his arguments as if they are being read by a sincere, but confused, semi-liberal, who can be won, step by step, over time, by sweet reason supported by debating skills, to become a conservative. This is just a necessary myth, of course.

Thus the best assumption with which to begin a debate is to assume that one’s liberal opponents are honourable people, whose decent goals are actually perverted by their liberal politics.

This is just the opposite of what one must do in actual armed combat, where the last thing you want to do is to dwell on the fact that the boy whose chest floats above your front blade sight is probably a frightened conscript with parents who will be devastated at the result of your trigger-squeeze.

But I now want to pray in aid two much better persuaders than myself:

“When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted. It is an old and true maxim that 'a drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.' So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the great highroad to his reason, and which, once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing him of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause is really a good one.” Abraham Lincoln

"Again I say, don't get involved in foolish arguments which only upset people and make them angry. God's people must not be quarrelsome; they must be gentle, patient teachers of those who are wrong. Be humble when you are trying to teach those who are mixed up concerning the truth. For if you talk meekly and courteously to them they are more likely, with God's help, to turn away from their wrong ideas and believe what is true." 2 Timothy 2:23-25
So, to sum up: realistically, you are not going to find that anyone experiences a ‘Road to Damascus’ conversion as a result of your brilliant arguments. Rather, we can raise doubts in the minds of liberals and centrists, which may later, aided by appropriate personal experiences, ripen into full-fledged objections to some critical aspect of the liberal program, leading to the making of another conservative. Our politics helps make sense of the world.

But even if you do not win over anyone who does not agree with you, you may still prevail – if your posts help educate other conservatives.

Lenin said that to be a good Bolshevik, you needed patience and a sense of irony. These are also the qualities of a good anti-Bolshevik.

(4) Avoid personal attacks.

In your arguments, you should try to remain cool, and courteous. I sometimes look for an opportunity to congratulate an opponent on some aspect of his presentation of his case, if I can do so without sounding too condescending. Concede graciously any good point your opponent makes -- it will only strengthen your hand when you attack his bad points, and it also puts you into a subtle position of authority, because you become simultaneously both a partisan and the arbiter of the quality of a debate.

You can see the truth of this by reversing the situation: imagine that you are starting to read a post by a liberal, which begins “All conservatives are sleezy, greedy conmen, and stupid to boot.” No matter how brilliantly that liberal put his following arguments, would you be inclined to listen to them? On the other hand, consider reading a liberal argument which began, “Conservatives deserve credit for being willing to think outside the box, and for their insistence on principles. However, they are mistaken on the question of …” Which approach would be likely to have more influence on you? We must keep this in mind when we present our arguments.

Or to quote the Master, justifying the very proper language in the British declaration of war on Japan, “After all, if you are going to kill a man, it costs nothing to be polite.” [Winston Churchill, History of the Second World War.]

Let me emphasise that I am not saying this from a goody two-shoes point of view, although I do believe that part of being a conservative is being a gentleman – remember that gentlemen once settled their differences with sword or pistol if necessary – and that even conservatives have been affected by the debasement of our culture in the last few decades. So part of winning over people is setting a good personal example. But mainly I want to make the simple point that Lincoln made: get your opponent in a psychological state where he wants to agree with you, to keep your esteem. To get him there, you must be willing, at least to start with, to extend him “provisional esteem”.

(5) Be cool and careful when responding to personal attacks if you respond to them at all.

These cannot always be ignored – although often simply ignoring them is the best thing to do – but your response should not be a simple reflex action. You need to think about what you’re going to say, and frame your answer in such a way that your opponent does not succeed in diverting a political confrontation into a personal one.

Personal attacks from an enemy in a debate are like a feint, designed to draw your fire onto a low-value mock-up target. A very oblique, dry, ironic riposte is okay, occasionally, if you can find an opening. But in general you should just ignore insults and invective, or acknowledge them with the written equivalent of a pitying shrug. It makes the other guy look bad, and it makes you look good, to anyone with a brain.

Consider how your reply will look to a thoughtful non-conservative reading the thread, not how you can most deeply wound the idiot who has attacked you.

There are certain liberal-run boards where the moderators are seeking the opportunity to ban conservatives for alleged bad behaviour. Don’t fall into the trap of giving them the excuse for which they are looking.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that personal attacks from liberal enemies should be seen as victories for us, and mistakes on their part. And as Napoleon said, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."

(6) Avoid obvious sarcasm. Never correct an opponent’s grammar or spelling mistakes, except perhaps implicitly, when quoting him. When you catch your opponent in a factual error, don’t be triumphant. Be polite. Be seen to be giving your opponent the benefit of the doubt – he is simply mis-informed, or ignorant, rather than a conscious deceiver. Carried out consistently, this stance will give you unshakable moral authority with those who are following the debate, provided that they are not insanely partisan.

Be ye gentle as doves, but wise as serpents.

(7) Choose your ground

To undermine liberalism and win people to conservatism it is not necessary to systematically win them over on every single question where the two camps differ.

In a real battle, in the days of massed infantry and artillery wars, a skilful general would look for the weak spots in his enemy’s lines, and would concentrate his forces there, hoping for a breakthrough and a rout which would see the enemy line disintegrating without it having to be defeated one-on-one at every point.

Similarly, the psychology of political conversion, I believe, begins with the raising of doubts about one or two pillars of belief – once these crumble, the person concerned will convince himself on other issues.

(8) Avoid issues where your enemy holds a natural advantage

There are issues where the left naturally hold the apparent high ground, and issues where the right does. Although in theory all should be discussed, since I am trying to win people to conservatism, I try to avoid getting involved in extended fights where the other side has the advantage. For instance, I think the American government and armed forces have been unquestionably lax in their attitude on the proper treatment of prisoners in the war on terror. In part this stems from the especially evil, but ambiguous – neither normal criminal nor soldier-- nature of our enemy, in part from the peculiarly democratic nature of the American military, which cannot enforce rigid Wehrmacht-style discipline on its enlisted personnel, and in part from what I believe is an inadequate understanding at all levels on our side of the peculiarly political nature of the war [where we could learn a thing or two from Trotsky and Mao Tse Tung].

The Left of course delight in this issue, because it makes them look pure, and our side look wicked. The best we can do is to affirm that it's not something to be proud of, where it’s true, that much of it is exaggerated, that this happens in every war, that the other guys are incomparably worse, and that even if every story is true, it does not change the nature of the war ... but you start out in the argument with two strikes against you. So it's not an argument where, to be frank, I want to see extended debate, because we have to fight on the defensive, and our enemy appears to hold the high moral ground, to mix military metaphors. When such a debate is unavoidable, I will mainly post links to articles in various conservative magazines condemning the practice, to prove that it's definitely not something we support.But if it becomes an unavoidable issue, it would be better for a conservative to initiate a thread on it, with a substantial post, rather than try to reply to liberal-initiated threads.

(9) Choose topics where facts are important, and you know them

I happen not to hold the most hard-line conservative position on abortion, but even if I did I would not particularly want to get into on-line debates about it. This is not because the Left hold the high moral ground here, the opposite is the case, but because this is not the kind of issue which is especially resolvable by the kind of argumentation involved in debates. The argument is all about when you should consider a fetus a human being, and it’s not an argument where facts have much bearing. Pro-life debaters can appeal, quite properly, to our natural human emotions by showing us with well-chosen images just what it is that abortions kill. Pro-choice debaters can attempt to drive their opponents into an absurd corner by demanding to know if they really believe that a microscopic clump of cells has the same rights as sentient human being, but neither side really can come to grips with the other.

But arguments about Iraq, or Affirmative Action, or Crime, or Welfare, or Chile and the cause of its prosperity, or Israel/Palestine or Illegal Immigration, are all topics where factual information can be of great value.

(10) Avoid topics where facts are important, and you don’t know them

I have had to deliberately hold back from some debates, such as the ones on national health care, or reform of social security, or voting fraud, simply because I didn’t know enough to give a good account of myself, and didn’t have the time to learn. In some cases I wasn’t sure of what my exact position would be anyway, but even where I was morally certain that one side was right, I didn’t know enough to argue well. Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent.

As a specific application of this rule: know when you’re being beaten in a debate, and don’t keep coming back for more. When you’ve obviously gotten entangled with a Lefty who is very knowledgeable on a subject and is outgunning you, and you can’t holler for reinforcements [but see the Appendix], don’t keep making inane replies whose content boils down to “you’re wrong”.

Back out gracefully with the threat of a return engagement. It does no harm to say, “You obviously are much better prepared than I am to debate this subject. I believe you’re wrong, and are making the worse appear the better cause, but I will think about what you’ve written, do some reading, and return at a later date to continue the argument.” (It is better, of course, never to be in this position, but if history teaches us anything about human conflict, it teaches us to expect the unexpected. Also: at the moment, there is, so far as I know, no place to go for help in a debate, but we may be able to rectify this omission: see the Appendix on Future Projects.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Right Way to Argue -- Part II (11) -(20)

(11) Work with events.

People are not influenced by arguments, so much as they are by events in the world, especially those which they experience personally. Or rather – you can give someone some incomparably wonderful arguments, but they may not take hold, and will just lie passively in the back of his mind – until he suddenly experiences for himself some reality that your facts and arguments allow him to make sense of.

Young liberals are often naïve, with little experience of the real world. For instance, they tend to see all poor people as basically like themselves, only somehow deprived of money by an unfair system. A visit to a public housing project might open their eyes. If they have also been exposed to the conservative argument about the nature of poverty, and in particular our refutation of the liberal idea that all poor people are, are middle class people unfairly deprived of money, then the experiences is likely to be a fruitful.

Thus the old saying, “A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged”.

After the successful 30 January elections in Iraq, and the subsequent creaking of the state machinery around the Arab world as various people began to say, “Hey, something’s starting to happen, and believe it or not, it’s that bastard Bush who should get the credit …” I could feel various liberals with whom I’d been fencing go on the defensive. That was the time to push hard on Iraq.

At the moment, when the insurgency appears undefeated, the converse is true – wise liberals will be pushing hard on Iraq at the moment, because events are working for them right now [Summer of 2005]. People who have been around a while will know that this sort of see-sawing of events is absolutely normal in any struggle where neither side has an overwhelming advantage on all fronts.

Immediately after the horrible bombings in London, I posted something (two things in fact) to over a hundred boards, of all political persuasions, to try to take advantage of the natural revulsion all decent people would feel at the events to focus their attention on the irrational and un-negotiable nature of our Islamic enemies, and to mock naïve liberals who want to make the main enemy our own security services.

On some English boards I posted a mock argument for surrender, to try to head off real arguments in favor of it, or at least to force the proponents of surrender to argue on my terms. [My argument: if we would just withdraw our [UK] troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and let the Islamists come to power all over the Middle East, and develop anthrax and nuclear weapons without hindrance, we could ride the buses in peace.]

So we need to be prepared to take advantage of events and move quickly to dominate and frame the debates that they will spark off. You may have prepared a good post on the question of crime, and leniency on criminals, but you will find that your argumentation will be doubly powerful if you wait to post it until some recently released criminal has just committed a horrible crime.

(12) Watch your language.

By which, I don’t mean avoid cuss words. I mean be careful to qualify your sentences so that your opponent cannot turn the argument into a quibble over whether ‘all’ or only ‘most’ And watch those (implied) quantifiers. I stupidly didn't do this a few weeks ago in a debate and got nailed down apparently saying [all] “ Black Studies courses are bogus”. When you leave out the quantifier you imply the universal quantifier, which is almost never a good idea in an argument. "Many" would have had the same force and wouldn't have given my enemies an easy target to shoot at. As it was all they had to do was find one Black Studies course which was not bogus, and that would trump my (hypothetical) presentation of 3000 which were.

There are links listing logical fallacies which, I suppose, mention this sort of thing. I have never found such lists of fallacies terribly useful, because they are either obvious, or not actually applicable to real reasoning, which is seldom aiming at perfect logical validity but at useful empirically-true generalizations. Thus it is a logical fallacy to dispute the conclusion of a chain of reasoning on the basis of some moral defect in the person making it – the so-called ad hominem argument – but in practice we use ad hominem thinking all the time. If I am ill I want to be diagnosed by a doctor who has proven in the past that he can make correct diagnoses, for example. Or, turning it around, I may find a useful and true fact on the website of the American Nazi Party, but I would be a fool to give that reference for it, even if it’s true. On the other hand, if you can source a useful fact to a known liberal site, it will have added force in the eyes of my liberal opponents.

(13) Don’t overlook the role of emotion

The inclination of most of us is, I suspect, to put our case using logic and evidence. We probably scorn appeals to emotion as a natural trait of fuzzy-minded liberals.

We would be wrong to do so.

Every debate has an emotional side, and to win a debate you cannot afford to neglect it. For instance, if a liberal opponent of the war in Iraq makes the argument, “Look, children are being killed by American bombs,” it is necessary to refute that argument with reason – more children will die if we do not fight, we do not deliberately target civilians, etc. – but those correct arguments have their natural complement in graphic tales and photos of children killed and maimed deliberately by terrorist bombs, and of stories and photos of American soldiers opening schools and rescuing children while risking their own lives to do so.

This point is closely related to the next point.

(14) Take the high ground and hold it.

This, one of the most fundamental rules of infantry manuever tactics, applies also to debate. Take and hold the moral high ground. Don’t let debates always center around liberal accusations of torture at Guantanamo, or carelessness in targeting in Fallujah, or corporate rape of the environment, with our side limited to refuting or explaining or putting in context.

We should start threads highlighting atrocities by our enemies, or showing the terrible results of statist control of Third World economies. Comrade Robert Mugabe should be rubbed in the liberals’ faces every week. Make them have to assert either that they agree with fighting terrorist atrocity-makers, or explain why they oppose doing so.

Liberalism and leftism is state-mandated “compassion,” which results in hellish public housing projects, communal-farm starvation agriculture, general debasement of popular culture, schools which are holding pens rather than centers of learning, released violent criminals claiming new victims, and military weakness in the face of pitiless enemies.

Conservatives are the truly compassionate people, because it is our programme and world-view which has resulted in societies where the age-old evils of poverty and oppression have been driven nearly to extinction. We must never let the liberals get away with claiming to be more compassionate and caring than we are (It is necessary to emphasize this because many conservatives – ask me how I know! – probably take a secret delight in shocking our sensitive liberal friends with robust formulations of our solutions to various social evils. We would be more than human always to deny ourselves these pleasures, but in debates, we are trying to win people to our point of view. So we should not only show our Ann Coulter face to them.)

We want to make them uneasy. We want them to go to sleep pondering the possibility that they oppose school choice because they are beholden to the teachers unions, unlike us caring, moral conservatives.

(15) Be positive.

There is a tendency for conservatives to criticize modern society, and its undoubted decline since the 1960s, and to take a tone of gloom and doom. This is generally not an attractive stance. We must project a positive, optimistic outlook – yes, things are bad, but they can be turned around, and are being turned around. People are waking up to the anti-civilizational nature of liberal relativism, and the future is a conservative one.

In particular, we must avoid the “I’ve got mine, Jack” argument: I made it, so anyone can, or, “Conservatism as a defense of my bank account”. Young people, who should be a special target for us, are idealistic. They want to do something to help bring about a better world. We need to show that the something they can do is to become conservatives, and help the consolidation and growth of the social and poltical system which uniquely can bring prosperity and liberty to everyone.

(16) Use Personal Experiences

To be a good debater, you need to be able to quote facts from books and articles, and to cite statistics. You need, in other words, to be able to draw upon the distilled experiences of mankind. But there is no doubt that personal testimony has a power and legitimacy that no abstract fact can match. Thus when I argue with lefties about the welfare system in Britain, where I live, of course I need to know the letter of the law on who is eligible for welfare, plus statistics about how many people are on it, and for how long, perhaps quotes from Theodore Dalrymple’s graphic Life at the Bottom.. But nothing can trump my direct personal witnessing of the welfare families who live in my village, and the several strong young men who draw welfare benefits but whose only work is jimmying open the windows of their neighbors, lifting pints of ale in the local pub, and fathering yet more illegitimate children to make sure that the system continues forever. Thus from direct eyewitness testimony I can refute Lefty apologists for the system who claim that it is only for those who are unable to work.

Thus you should always try, if it is possible, to use your personal experiences to back up your arguments. Leftists tell us that most American soldiers are baby-killers and that all leftist college professors are scrupulously fair. The only way to answer these arguments convincingly is through personal testimony of the opposite case.

(17) Seek out and exploit contradictions in the enemy camp.

In the just-passed days of massed infantry warfare, one standard tactic was to concentrate an attack at the boundary of two large enemy units. This would automatically activate two enemy command centers, causing (hopefully) confusion and contradictory orders.

Unlike conservatism, liberalism does not have well-grounded intellectual foundations. Liberalism is basically the desire to be kind and to do good, plus a strong preference for equality over liberty, with the means for achieving liberal ends chosen according to the fads of the moment, but almost always involving an increase in the power of the state. This is why liberalism has always been so easy to manipulate by distinctly alien political currents who have a much more well-worked out political ideology, like communism, and why its opposition to Islamist fundamentalism is often so half-hearted and weak. (Irving Kristol, writing in the late 1960s, noted that liberals were incapable of opposing any political movement if it was supported by large numbers of poor people. This was before the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, but he was right on the money.)

Although conservatives are divided into several currents, such as traditionalists, the neos, the paleos, the libertarians, etc, we are aware of our differences with each other. Liberals are often unaware that their camp contains, for instance, ardent admirers of the North Korean regime. They themselves may not know what they really think about such systems, as witness the typical liberal ambiguity about Cuba (“At least they have good health care,” is a typical liberal observation. “And really good gun control,”should be our riposte!)

A typical liberal group on an on-line Forum may contain liberals who consider themselves patriotic Americans, who oppose the Iraq war because it prevents us from concentrating resources in Afghanistan, and who are concerned that our troops are not getting the very best equipment, that the re-enlistment rate is falling, etc.

At the same time, they may find that they have ‘allies’ in the debate who oppose intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan equally; who see “Amerikkka” as the source of all the world’s evils, and who could care less what happens to the American military.

In a debate, we should attempt to drive these two sets of people apart. “So Karl Rove exposed a CIA agent? And you say this is bad? But I thought you believed the CIA was evil.” The hard-core opponents of the war in Iraq also oppose our actions in Afghanistan, whereas many liberals support the latter, or claim to. In a debate on Iraq a natural tactic for us should be to force our opponents to differentiate themselves – and hopefully to start quarrelling among themselves – over this difference.

At any rate, we must not let hard Leftists cloak their aims in spurious patriotism (“our poor soldiers”) nor let ostensibly realistic liberals [Iraq No, Afghanistan Yes] get a free ride by appealing to pacifist sentiments in which they supposedly don’t believe.

In short: divide and conquer.

(18) Don’t get hung up on words.

An enormous amount of time is wasted debating whether or not Hitler “was” a Leftist, or arguing about what socialism “is”. Almost all such debates are a great waste of time, because they assume that words have inherent meanings, like the contents of a box. They do not. Even the “dictionary definition” of a word just tells you how a particular – supposedly authoritative – person thinks the word is used. Words don’t “have” meanings, but rather we use them in certain ways. And we may use them in contradictory ways, we may use them vaguely, the use may change over time, and so on.

Usually such debates would be much more clear if the argument was about (1) how is a particular word used, with the understanding that it may be used in several mutually-contradictory ways, and (2) how should it be used, for maximum political clarity. You can often expose an opponent’s sloppy thinking by forcing a clear definition of terms, remembering that words do not “have” unchanging, crystal-clear meanings.

(19) Expose your opponent’s hidden assumptions.

Although all of us probably do a lot of thinking and speaking without being explicit about our ideas, liberals and leftists seem to be particularly guilty of fuzzy thinking. Perhaps this is because liberalism is not a well-worked out and historically-grounded body of thought, or perhaps it is due to some other reason.

In any case, you can often gain traction in a debate if you force your liberal opponent to state clearly his beliefs. An example, admittedly somewhat contrived: suppose your opponent says that he opposes the war in Iraq, because a lot of people were killed for what turned out to be a false belief, namely, that Saddam Hussein had WMD.

You might ask him: suppose WMD had been found – would he have supported the war, despite the fact that a lot of innocent people were killed? If he says “yes,” he has lost some moral high ground: he has admitted that there are circumstances under which he would support the killing of innocent people. You may have to force him to admit this. If he says “No” then you can push further, to see if there are any goals for which he would support a war, with its inevitable killing of innocent people. If you then expose him as an unrealistic pacifist, you have won the debate.

Or, you could ask him if he would have supported the war, had the intelligence reports on WMD been less ambiguous. Suppose they had returned some strong evidence of WMD, but not conclusive evidence. Would he have supported the war then, or would he have gambled on the reports not being true, or taken a chance that the WMD would have remained within Iraq.

The point is, to get your liberal opponent to propound some far-out unrealistic position, like pacifism, or to admit that his differences with you are tactical – i.e. he too would be a baby-killer under different circumstances. This destroys his sense of moral superiority, which many liberals find necessary to their well-being.

Your opponent is likely to respond by refusing to argue hypotheticals – but all you are doing is the kind of thinking that scientists do, when they abstract from irrelevant details. Anyone who has taken a physics course where the nature of forces is studied will be familiar with the concept of the frictionless surface. There is no such thing, but it is a very useful mental tool which allows us to focus on one particular aspect of reality and reach clarity concerning it.

In debate it can be a very powerful technique to create a “frictionless surface” via hypothetical cases.

A similar approach is to ask your opponent, what evidence would convince you that your stand is wrong? For example, in a debate about capital punishment, an opponent of capital punishment should be asked, if it could be shown that just one execution of a definitely-guilty criminal could lower the murder rate dramatically, would you support it? Since many opponents of capital punishment oppose it on non-rational grounds, such a question will make them very uneasy: either they admit that there are some circumstances under which they would support it – thus losing their moral high ground – or they look foolish and rigidly unrealistic.

Of course, you will run into liberal opponents who will stake out a position on tactical grounds alone, in which case you must shift to a debate around the facts.

(20) Know your enemy.

Being able to read the enemy’s plans in war, and/or knowing the Enemy Order of Battle, is the dream of every military commander. In political combat, you can do this.

There are hundreds of liberal and leftwing websites, and dozens of associated electronic newsletters, which you can access for free. You should sign up for two or three, and read them regularly. Reading liberal arguments is sometimes not easy, and this is especially true when you feel you cannot answer them. But knowing the playbook from which your opponent is reading will more than make up for any cognitive dissonance you feel from regularly reading liberal argumentation.

I regularly read The Nation magazine’s, and get news updates from the following leftwing sources, and I don’t read every word of every dispatch, but I make sure that I look at all of the titles, and read the articles which I think my liberal opponents are likely to read. Forewarned is forearmed.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Right Way to Argue: Parts III and IV.

Points related to debating on-line.

(1) The shorter the post, the more likely it is to be read.

Television has greatly shortened the attention-reading span of the average person. Of course, if you've got several points to make, you may need to make a longer post. But I guarantee that, except for the really thoughtful (and probably older) folks, length = ignored.. If you've got two or more points to make that are not intimately related to each other, consider making them in two separate posts.

(2) Aim at one paragraph per sentence.

Multi-sentence paragraphs tend to be ignored. In practice, you may find that a good paragraph consists of a single major sentence, followed by one or two shorter supporting sentences.

(3) Try to use various highlighting methods to help your reader understand your points.

This includes italics for words you would stress if you were speaking them, or bold for words you want to call to your reader's attention. And follow a consistent style for highlighting book titles and journal titles. It makes you look more professional. I haven't yet experimented, but intend to, with underlining, color, and font changes; but these should be used sparingly, in any case. It goes without saying that you should use the QUOTE facility where available.

And take the time to set off distinct material – for example, a list of links – as has been done with this sentence.

(4) Control the battle.

You do this by preparing well, then starting your own thread, to which your political opponents have to reply. This gives you the advantage of choosing the terms of the debate, and of beginning it with a carefully-considered min-essay, rather than a spontaneous retort to a liberal’s well-prepared post.

(5) Choose a meaningful and provocative title for your threads.

“My thoughts on economics” is not going to attract nearly so many viewers as “Lower Taxes Mean Less Poverty”. It is worth while looking at the titles of threads on any forum on which you are taking part, to see which get the most views, and attract the most replies. From my own study of this subject, I would say that the ideal title is “GUN Can Prevent RAPE , both heterosexual and HOMOSEXUAL, thus cutting out the need for ABORTION” but you can only use it once. [Joke!]

(6) Avoid long threads, if possible.

Sometimes you can't -- But remember that newcomers to a debate will only read the last page or two of a thread, and will miss things you have said earlier. Thus if X says on page 10 (perhaps himself not having read your earlier posts where this point is refuted), "Y believes Negroes are inferior", it doesn't matter if on page 2 you explicitly said you didn't believe this. No one except the hard core will have read that page. So you're forced to go back and quote yourself, which is a bore.

Where a thread has gone on for more than four or five pages, and you want to continue the debate, consider starting a new thread, on the same or a closely related theme, perhaps summarizing the debate from the first thread.

(7) Give a good thread the exposure it deserves.

Sometimes our opponents will slink away from a debate which has gone well from our point of view. (And they are smart to do so.) Thus the thread will quickly sink from view. In this case, you should from time to time ‘bump’ it with a bit of additional commentary, so that people whose attendance at the forum is only periodic, and newcomers, will get a chance to see it.

(8) Don’t let a good thread get hijacked.

I doubt if this is done deliberately, but I have seen an excellent thread, from the conservative point of view, driven right into the ground by a leftist bonehead. The thread started with a post by a conservative who made some observations on the intellectual poverty of liberalism. This was followed by one or two other conservatives, who amplified the point. Then the Forum’s resident IQ-challenged liberal posted something grossly stupid and irrelevant in reply, which was answered by a conservative, and which was then replied to by the original stupid poster, and then answered by another conservative, which response was then answered by yet another stupid post from the original bonehead, and so on. The result was a thread with three or four excellent posts, followed by fifteen or twenty boring posts and counter-posts, taking the debate right off the screen and giving thoughtful people a good excuse to ignore it. To be sure, the original liberal poster was thoroughly revealed as an idiot, but no one on that Forum, left or right, thought highly of them as a thinker anyway.

What our side should have done was not to have replied to the original poster’s second response. We should have had the discipline to hold our fire, and wait for more intelligent liberals to try to answer the original points, which they had shown themselves loathe to do, and for good reason.

(9) Use crowd psychology to your advantage.

It is a well-known fact, substantiated by numerous psychology experiments, that people are heavily influenced in their perceptions and beliefs by what they think are the perceptions and beliefs of those around them.

If you are unable to contribute a substantial post in an on-going debate, you can still have a positive effect by simply cheering on our side. I have noticed on one particular Board that, in a hot debate, whenever a liberal submits a substantial post, one or two others follow immediately with short posts saying, “Excellent post, Bill!” or “You got ‘em that time, Mike.” And it is amazing the psychological effect this can have on readers, as validating the posts being referred to. A single person arguing a position, no matter how effectively, against half a dozen less skilful opponents, still has the appearance of a lone eccentric in the eyes of observers – such is our primate nature. But let three or four other supporters join his side, even if only to say, “Well done,” and

(10) Boost your side.

Consider also sending the occasional private message to a conservative who has made a good point, congratulating them on it. All human beings appreciate being appreciated. We want to encourage our side, and to let them know that their efforts are being read and approved of even if this is not always manifested in public support.

(11) Use Links Lavishly

I believe that people will follow a link and read something at a length that they would not consider were it just cut-and-pasted into a post. I believe this only through introspection, although it would make a nice psychology experiment, to test its validity.

In any case, if you keep up with the excellent on-line essays available from the formidable stable of conservative commentators, and use them where appropriate, you will greatly magnify your striking power. The same goes for pure news items which reinforce our worldview, and/or undermine our enemies’. One of the most dangerous men in a battle is that innocent-looking Forward Observer, who never pulls a trigger himself but just gets on the radio and calls in timely air and artillery strikes.

When you mention a book which you would like others to read, it should, if the book is available, have an Amazon [or other on-line bookseller]-link.

Many people have never heard of the many excellent conservative books, journals, and web sites. Not all of our posts have to be part of a debate. If you have read a good conservative book recently, mention it. (Many Boards have special sections where this can be done.)

Good topical essays by conservative columnists should be posted also, even if they are not immediately relevant to an on-going debate. It’s not really possible, within the space available for posting, to make extended arguments. But if someone can be persuaded to buy a conservative book, or look at a conservative website, then you have accomplished more than a dozen good posts could do.

Note that if you are new to debate and haven’t built up the knowledge or self-confidence to write your own extended post, you can still do a power of good for our side by just posting useful links, with a sentence or two of recommendation.

(12) Repel “False Flag” Boarders promptly

Certain topics invariably attract the attention of ostentatious bigots, who are more likely, unfortunately, to be found in the conservative camp than in the liberal. These people are poison for us.

Although such people may think of themselves as ‘conservatives’, the actual conservative movement long ago left them behind, as it has expanded to embrace every kind of American. In fact, since liberals tend to take for granted the support of ethnic minorities and gay people, the latter groups may actually find a warmer welcome among us than among liberals.

Nevertheless, a debate about, say, Affirmative Action can see the appearance of someone who will claim that all Blacks are lazy. Since someone like this is inevitably going to be classified, by our liberal opponents, as a conservative, and since his posts will have the effect of driving all decent people into the liberal camp, it is imperative to reply immediately and make it clear that racism (and bigotry of all sorts) and conservatism are mutually incompatible. [A good way to do this in the case of the Blacks-are-lazy bigot is to invite him to emulate, in his energy, the prodigious intellectual output of Thomas Sowell; or perhaps to enquire if he would be up to debating Condoleeza Rice on the proper American policy towards Russia – where he will have to be able to match her in the ability to cite sources in the original Russian, in which she is fluent.]

Although most racist gay-baiting male chauvinist bigots are probably genuine, they also could be some clever liberal’s “False Flag” operation, designed to discredit us through guilt-by-association. So we want to disassociate ourselves from them immediately.(It may be necessary to distinguish between genuine neo-Nazis, and those backwoodsmen who are simply not yet housetrained, and need a broader experience of the world, such as they might get from reading things by Black or gay or female conservatives.)

(13) Create a “Band of Brothers”.

Where it is appropriate (on large boards, and ones run by liberals) use the Private Message (PM) facility to establish links with other conservatives. Scan the “Members” section from time to time to note new members of the Board whose self-designation reveals them to be conservatives, and send them a welcoming message. Congratulate conservative posters who make a particularly good argument. (Remember that PMs can be read by administrators, so anything further than simple exchanges of good wishes, such as co-ordinating posting strategy, is best done by email.) PMs might also be a good mode for expressing disagreement with some aspect of a fellow-conservative’s debating tactics or style, or tactfully pointing out to him some factual error he has made, which you don’t want to expose to the view of the liberals.

IV Conclusion and Summary

Arguing the case for a conservative approach to politics is both personally satisfying, and useful. The population is not divided into monolithic immovable political blocs, but consists in part of large numbers of people who can be won to conservative politics. The internet makes it possible for this activity to take place on a greatly expanded scale. Debate and argumentation, like all other forms of struggle, is an art, in which one’s effectiveness can be dramatically improved by both practice and conscious application.

I hope this paper has helped to persuade you to do both and has also given you some tips which you will find useful.